Short people are 50 per cent likelier than tall people to die prematurely of heart disease, a study of three million people has found.
The study showed that women less than 1.53m and men less than 1.65m tall are significantly more prone to cardiovascular or coronary heart problems than women and men taller than 1.66m and 1.73m respectively.
The findings suggested that short stature should be added to the list of known heart disease risk factors alongside obesity, advanced age and high cholesterol levels, the researchers said.
The link between height and heart conditions has been examined in nearly 2000 studies from around the world over the past 60 years, but evidence remained contradictory.
Scientists in Finland led by Puula Paajanen of the University of Tampere sifted through all this research to see if they could tease out a definitive answer.
The best approach, they decided, was to compare the shortest group to the tallest group to highlight any differences that might emerge.
They focused on 52 earlier studies, examining more than three million people who met their criteria for comparability and high standards.
The results were unequivocal: short stature is associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease, University of Helsinki professor Jaakko Tuomilehto said of the new study.
"But the possible patho-physiological, environmental, and genetic background of this peculiar association is not known," he said.
One theory is that shorter people have smaller coronary arteries that may become clogged earlier in life, especially when combined with poor nutrition or infections resulting in poor foetal or childhood growth.
But recent findings also suggested genes might be a culprit, Ms Paajanen said.
"The genetic background of body height suggest that inherited factors ... may explain the association between small stature and an increased risk of heart disease in later life," she said.
Short people should not be worried about the new findings, Ms Paajanen said.
"Height is only one factor that may contribute to heart disease. Whereas people have no control over their height, they can control their weight, lifestyle habits such as smoking, drinking and exercise," she said.
She also pointed out that being tall eliminated a risk factor for coronary heart disease but was not in itself a protection against it.